Recessional: A Novel

Recessional: A Novel


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In this remarkable novel, Pulitzer Prize–winning author James A. Michener draws on his unparalleled gift for storytelling, his deep understanding of American society, and his own life experiences to illuminate the challenges of aging and the folly of youth. As the new director of a Florida retirement home known as the Palms, Andy Zorn suffers no shortage of loving support from his “elders,” a group of five passionate, outspoken residents. Still, Andy’s shortcomings tear him apart. But when he meets an extraordinary young woman who has been forced to rebuild her life after suffering crippling injuries, he finds himself falling in love. And with a few gentle jabs from his more mature friends, he discovers a wonderful new purpose in life.
Praise for Recessional
“The best moments in the novel occur when the characters disclose what’s in their hearts and minds with rueful, snappy humor.”The New York Times Book Review
“Michener hooks you with wonderfully humorous scenes. These are then interwoven between the moments of pain and heartache brought about by life choices we all must make.”Tulsa World
“Engaging . . . One will be drawn into the novelist’s world. . . . The lush natural setting provides James Michener plenty to show and tell.”The Washington Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812986808
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/08/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 151,396
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

James A. Michener was one of the world’s most popular writers, the author of more than forty books of fiction and nonfiction, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Tales of the South Pacific, the bestselling novels The Source, Hawaii, Alaska, Chesapeake, Centennial, Texas, Caribbean, and Caravans, and the memoir The World Is My Home. Michener served on the advisory council to NASA and the International Broadcast Board, which oversees the Voice of America. Among dozens of awards and honors, he received America’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1977, and an award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 1983 for his commitment to art in America. Michener died in 1997 at the age of ninety.

Date of Birth:

February 3, 1907

Date of Death:

October 16, 1997

Place of Death:

Austin, Texas


B.A. in English and history (summa cum laude), Swarthmore College, 1929; A.M., University of Northern Colorado, 1937.

Read an Excerpt

On the last day of the year, when an icy blizzard shrieked in from Lake Michigan to cover Chicago in a coating of sleet, it struck with particular fury at Boul Mich, the handsome thoroughfare that displays the best of the Windy City. Here stood the enormously rich Art Institute, the great hotels to which Middle America came to participate in metropolitan life; businessmen and -women came to visit banks and centers of commerce, shoppers to patronize the elegant stores, others to enjoy the fine museums.
Michigan Boulevard was the official name of the spacious promenade, but early Chicagoans, deeming their city the equal of any in Europe, had informally christened their major street Boul Mich in the French style, and the name had stuck. In summer the long stretches that faced the lake, with only parkland between the boulevard and the water, seemed almost rural, but on this dark December morning, with the blizzard whipping in, Boul Mich was a formidable place that only the brave dared challenge. Sleet had encrusted everything, its scintillating gleam rivaling that of the jewels on display in the shop windows. It lay so heavy on the boulevard, and was accompanied by such a powerful blast from the lake, that ropes had been strung between poles to enable pedestrians to crawl along without being blown into the storefronts or out into the traffic.
Some hardy men seemed to revel in the hazards of the storm, striding purposefully along as if impervious to the menace underfoot, but even they, when a gust roared in without warning, were quick to grasp at the protective ropes and edge their way along. Women, their coats and dresses whipping about their knees, retreated to the safe streets that ran parallel to Boul Mich but inland from the lake—Wabash, State or Dearborn—where walking became easier with careful navigation of the sleeted pavements.
At half after nine on this wintry morning a slim young man in his middle thirties worked his way carefully southward along Boul Mich. When he tried to negotiate the Monroe cross street he was driven so far to his right that he found himself completely off the boulevard, but with extra effort he worked his way back, relieved to find himself protected by the massive bulk of the Art Institute.
“I never visited you enough,” he apologized to the entrance as he paused to catch his breath, “and now I won’t have the chance. Damn.”
With renewed strength he left the protection of the museum. Pulling the lapels of his overcoat more tightly about his throat, and holding them there with his right hand, he managed to cling to the rope with his left and work his way along the boulevard to Van Buren and then to Congress, where the line of luxury hotels began.
By the time he reached the Sparkman Towers he was so exhausted that he did not enter like a normal guest through the main entrance but allowed the wind to push him through the small side door, the only one kept open during such storms. Safely indoors, he dropped momentarily into an upholstered chair to regain control of his heartbeat and breathing. Taking his pulse as he always did after heavy exertion, he noted with satisfaction: a hundred and ten dropping rapidly to good old eighty. After a few minutes, he felt ready for the crucial meeting he had come for, but before he could find the receptionist, he was accosted by the hotel doorman, who had been sensible enough to move his workstation inside and away from the blizzard.
“Pretty bad out there?” He was a jovial fellow in his fifties, overweight but also overendowed with Irish charm and a winning smile, the kind of man who created the impression that he took pride in his work.
“It’s a gangbuster. If they hadn’t strung the ropes, I’d never have made it.”
“And who might you be coming to see on a morning like this?”
“John Taggart. I believe he’s expecting me.”
“On a Saturday morning like this?”
“I suspect he’s as eager to see me as I am to see him, storm or no storm.”
“And who can I say wants to see him?”
“Andy Zorn. Dr. Andy Zorn.”
“A medical doctor? Don’t tell me you make house calls.”
“Only on nice days like this when I enjoy the walk.”
The doorman led the way to the small, handsomely decorated table that served as the reception desk. “Dr. Andy Zorn to see Mr. Taggart. Says he has an appointment.”
“He does indeed,” the young woman in the trim business suit said. “Mr. Taggart called a few minutes ago. Said he was expecting you but he doubted you could make it in this storm. Said to bring you right up, Dr. Zorn.” She accompanied him to the bank of eight elevators, choosing a reserved one for which she had a special key.
John Taggart, a major Chicago investor in retirement centers across the country, maintained both his living quarters and his office, two different sets of rooms, on the twenty-third floor of the Towers. The door to his apartment contained only its number, 2300; his office carried no number at all, only a small brass plate affixed to the wall engraved with elegant letters so small they could scarcely be read from a distance: JOHN TAGGART ENTERPRISES.
The receptionist did not knock on the office door but entered as if the place was familiar, leading Zorn to an inner sanctuary. Behind a large white-oak desk sat a fifty-year-old man in an elegant exercise suit: heavily ribbed gray turtleneck sweater and fitted trousers in a gray one shade darker. Surprisingly, he wore about his forehead a rough terry-cloth sweatband, which he did not take off as he rose and extended his hand to welcome Dr. Zorn.
“When I looked out this morning and saw the blizzard I said: ‘He won’t make it today,’ and went down to the gym for my workout.” He pressed his hands proudly over his flat stomach.
“But it was essential that I see you,” Zorn said as Mr. Taggart accompanied the receptionist to the door and said: “Thank you so much, Beth, for bringing him up.” Turning back to Zorn, he said: “Yes, it is important, isn’t it? For both of us.”
For the next moments Taggart simply stared at his visitor. The vacancy in his huge organization was of supreme importance, and the new manager would have to be a youngish man of exceptional abilities. Tampa was the flagship of Taggart Enterprises, but it was foundering. What Taggart saw in his inspection of a man he had not previously met was a doctor of thirty-five, medium height, not overweight, in apparent good health and distinguished by two attractive qualities: he had a healthy crop of brick-red hair, which looked as if it ought to be accompanied by a face full of country-boy freckles, and a roguish smile that signaled: I don’t take myself too seriously. Taggart knew that he had been a successful medical doctor of great ability who had fallen on bad times and had left his profession. Zorn was available to direct a major health institution and Taggart wanted to hire him, but needed to know what kind of man he was after the buffetings he’d taken.
Indicating that Zorn should take the preferred seat, the one that looked out on Lake Michigan, he said: “Have you had breakfast?” When Zorn nodded yes, he said: “Good. So have I, but I’ll bet we could each profit from some fresh-squeezed orange juice.” Pushing a button on his desk intercom, he ordered the drinks, and before they arrived he went directly to the heart of the problem that had brought them together.
“We need each other, Zorn. From what my men tell me, I judge that you’re fed up with Chicago—especially on a day like this.”
“Maybe better said, Chicago’s fed up with me.”
“Could be.”
When the orange juice arrived, Taggart took the glasses from the waiter and personally served his guest, then returned to his chair behind the desk and sat staring at his own glass. Holding his hands together, he lifted his elbows parallel to the floor and flexed his muscles three or four times in an isometric exercise that ended with his pulling his extended fists sharply back and into his chest, as if he were trying to knock himself out. He then took a long drink.
“Dr. Zorn. You were on your high school track team. Always good for a man to have been an athlete. Teaches him about winning.” He stopped to stare directly at the doctor: “And the game I’m in and which you seek to join is about how we win, and why others lose, and how we turn their losses into our wins. It’s about nothing else—not money, not health, not retirement. It’s about winning, and don’t you forget it.”
He led Zorn to an alcove whose walls were lined with charts and displays that summarized Taggart Enterprises. One wall was dominated by a huge aerial photograph of a cluster of buildings surrounded by well-kept real estate, another by a large map of the United States decorated with more than fifty stick pins, each ending in a glass bead in one of three colors—red, blue, black. They were well dispersed across the United States but seemed a bit more heavily concentrated in New England and the areas adjacent to Seattle.

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Recessional 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The fact that this book was published in 1994 and it probably took Michner a couple of years to put it together,I was impressed with his far thinking of what these retirement communities presently consist of. I do feel some of it was like a fantasy. The four elderly men building the plane, the double amputee able to play tennis. I did like the way he showed what the legal profession is doing to the medical profession. What I wonder about is what did the snake represent. I feel it was some kind of symbolism, as he went into great detail about it. I would welcome any thoughts on this. Thank you.
catsalive on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An enjoyable tale. The nursing & other medical care was interesting, as were the people. A little sentimental in spots but forgiveable.Recessional: noun. A hymn or other piece of music played at the end of a service while the congregation is filing out.
santhony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pretty disappointing effort from Michener, centered on life at a Florida retirement home.
tommyTH More than 1 year ago
Recessional is one of those books I read when it frist came out, I gave my first copy to a friend as I did several other copies I have bought since. This is a wonderful read, it is so real, and a great story. I will probably give this one to someone after I read it, and I will have to buy more. I can't say how often I have read this book, several, I seem to need to read it again every couple of years or so.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fascinating fictional account of what could be the actual account of Assisted Living and Long Term Care. Excellent portrayal of life in the golden years.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago